The impasse that arose with the Automatic Indexation (ATA) due to the disagreements between employers and trade unions, led last Thursday to a three-hour general strike, with the measures not excluded escalate in the next period, if and as long as the differences between the two sides are not bridged.
The general strike affected the public and wider public sector, as well as semi-governmental organizations, with the country paralysing, in almost all sectors, reminiscent of strikes that in previous years we only watched from our television receivers in other countries.
This, in fact, was the first general strike recorded in Cyprus, after seventy-nine whole years, since the previous time a strike of such a large extent was in the distant 1944, during the British occupation and which again concerned the price tag, with the workers to eventually gain many rights. In the interim there were large strikes, which concerned issues such as the Cyprus issue, education and construction.
The only general strike in Cyprus
On March 1, 1944, Cypriot workers poured into the streets to protest and claim their rights, for the price tag. On 29 February of that year, the PSE (the predecessor of the PEO) decided on a general strike, following the negative response they received from the Colonial Secretary, the Military Authorities, the Director of Public Works and the Labor Commissioner, to their demands for increases in daily wages. . The officials also rejected the proposals of the trade unions for measures that the British Government should take, to reduce the price index.
According to the “Ergatiko Vima” the strike was decided with immediate effect from the next day, in which approximately 1500 workers participated. Despite this, the Government did not give in to the demands of the trade unions, but neither did the workers take a step back. For thirteen full days, the strike continued, until on March 14 it turned into a general strike. During the strike there were massive mobilizations of thousands of workers, while restaurants and leisure centers were closed, and the press also went on strike.
Finally, on March 23rd, a truce was declared with effect until June 9th, with the Government setting up a commission on daily wages, resulting in the granting of family allowances, paid vacations, severance pay, Social Insurances.
The main conquests won were seven and related to, indexation of wages, grant of family allowance, grant of civil allowance, grant of 10 days paid rest leave, payment of up to one month's sick pay, one week's notice in case of dismissal and improvement of technical schools.
Big strikes before the armed struggle
The general strike of 1944 was a harbinger of the next dynamic mobilizations of Cypriots against British rule, such as that of 1948, when the British tried to limit the development and the rights of the trade union movement.
Within 1948, there were a total of three strikes, which lasted almost the entire year. It is about the strike of the miners of the Cyprus Mining Company, which started in the first days of January and ended around the middle of May. The British opposed the strikers and tried in every way to break it, imprisoning people and sending others to the Courts. Indeed, arrests and torture were ordered. The actions of the colonialists resulted in injuries to the strikers.
The next big strike took place from August 2nd until the 31st of the same month by the asbestos miners, whose members were warned that they were being fired. The reaction of the strikers brought results, since the persons were kept in their positions. There was also the builders' strike, which started five days before the end of the asbestos miners' strike and ended on December 12. A total of 1200 workers participated in this strike and it was aimed at asserting economic demands. From the above strikes, dozens of strikers were sentenced to prison.
At the same time, strikes took place during the EOKA match, which were aimed at animating the fighters. A striking example was the event that took place in March 1956.
In it, everything on the island was paralyzed and after it, Archbishop Makarios was arrested and exiled to the Seychelles.
After Independence, there have been various strikes from time to time, mainly in government and semi-government services, to assert salary demands. Nevertheless, the unions, but the workers themselves, used the strike measure very carefully and after much hesitation, as they did not want to create additional problems for the state, when at the same time there was the Cyprus problem with so many dramatic as well as serious fluctuations.
The baton in education
In the 1960s and 1970s, before the Turkish invasion, the largest mobilizations that took place had a background in education, with the first occurring in June 1963, for the passing of the law on teachers.
The Government was trying to carry out reforms, in matters concerning teachers and professors, however it broke with them over the content of said reforms. So the first strike was a one-day strike and took place on June 26. The characteristic of this particular strike is that the POED filed a complaint against a deputy of the community of Lysis. This MP visited the schools of the village and invited the students to collect stones and throw them at their teachers. Besides, he wrote slogans against the teachers on the blackboards. Thus, he managed to create great tension between the two sides.
Around the end of August, two months later, a joint committee was set up by POED and OELMEK, in which the highest officials of each organization participated and met together, making joint decisions.
A second strike followed, which lasted twelve days and ended after the intervention of Makarios. From November 3rd to November 15th, there were voices that disagreed, there were voices that said they should find them, as well as mediation efforts from other organizations, such as SEK for example. Finally, with the mediation of a doctor, the strike was resolved, after the teachers won the full identification of education with Greece.
Back on the streets for wages
Five years later, the teachers took to the streets again, demanding their salary upgrade, so that the data would be similar to those in Greece.
As mentioned in an earlier feature of the REPORTER, teachers in Greece then received around 114 pounds while in Cyprus 60 pounds. And in this case, a joint committee was formed to look into the matter and achieve convergences to resolve the strike. Finally, the Government managed to approach each union in a different way, short-circuiting the strike. In fact, it was decided to cut four days' salary from the strikers, which brought the reaction of the teachers.
In 1971, the educational organizations resumed protests, due to the non-payment of the 13th salary. The teachers of all levels united and started a dialogue with the Government in order to solve the problem. Moments of tension were created through the dialogue, with Makarios intervening and asking for a suspension of the strikes, on the condition that the 13th salary would be paid, which was done.
In the following decades, hundreds of strikes were carried out by workers. in various fields, but they were not as large-scale as those that took place until 1971.
The massive builders strike
The longest strike recorded in Cyprus in modern times was that of the builders, in 2013, in the midst of the economic crisis and which lasted over twenty days, starting on January 24 and ending on February 13.
Thousands of builders paralyzed the industry, after protesting wage cuts and layoffs by contractors, whom they accused of taking advantage of the economic crisis to bring cheap labor from third countries to Cyprus.
Finally, on the evening of February 12, an agreement was signed in principle for the collective agreement in the construction industry, between the Minister of Labor Sotiroula Charalambous, the contractors and the strikers.
After the signing of the agreement, the Minister of Labor stated, among other things, that “our role as a Ministry all these days was, after listening to the concerns and priorities of both sides, to provide an agreement text that also concerns the issues of wage costs in the construction industry but, at the same time, to respond to the need to implement some mechanisms through the declaration of employment certificate introduced on the basis of the agreement, so as to help combat undeclared work and unfair competition in the construction industry”.
At the same time, he expressed the belief that through the agreement an important step is taken towards a joint effort, which aims to support workers and employers in the construction industry with the common goal of better days to come for this industry. “It has been proven that through mutual understanding and cooperation, utilizing the labor relations system, even in these particularly difficult conditions, we can find those solutions that advance labor relations one step further”, he noted, and assured that the Ministry will continue to stand by both sides.
The hot summer of Education
The field of Education looked like an erupting volcano in the summer of 2018, with teachers standing against the Government's decisions to reduce spending, following a recommendation made to the Ministry of Education by the Auditor General.
The biggest crisis in the field of education, in recent years, took place in the summer of 2018. A period, which will be written in the history of education in Cyprus, as the “hot summer of 2018”. It all started on June 11, when the Auditor General had sent a letter to the Ministry of Education and presented it as wasteful, recommending that it proceed with a rationalization of expenses.
The decision of the Ministry of Education, on July 2, to listen to the recommendations and suggestions of the Auditor General resulted in the angry reaction of the three educational organizations. Two days later, the Council of Ministers approved the Ministry of Education's rationalization decisions. Specifically, it was decided to abolish the reduction of teachers' teaching time, depending on their years of service, the reduction of the time of the responsible departments to one hour and finally the granting of union time, sending all teachers back to their headquarters without exception… And from that day, until in the middle of the school year, an unprecedented crisis had begun.
Thousands of teachers took to the streets. Holding banners and shouting slogans they protested against the decisions of the Council of Ministers. “Hands off Education”, was the main slogan of the protest.
Immediately after, a new dialogue started, but without result. In fact, Presidential intervention was deemed necessary, with Nikos Anastasiadis summoning the Minister of Education, POED, OELMEK and OLTEK to the Presidential Palace. From that day on, an even more intensive dialogue began, while the president of EDEK, Marinos Sizopoulos, was also recruited. However, it didn't come out again, white smoke.
On August 28, teachers took to the streets again, carrying out one of the biggest protests in recent years. 10,000 people flooded Nicosia and reached the Presidential Palace.
The first bell rang and the mood had not changed. The teachers decided to close the schools for two days. Finally, Government and organizations found the golden ratio and reached an agreement, with the teachers speaking of the biggest victory in the field of education.